Tag Archives: Getting published

Beyond the Bestseller


Who doesn’t want to be a best seller? Perhaps in the title of this forthcoming event there’s a recognition that we can’t all be best-sellers and it might be as satisfying to find the right publisher for your book and sell it to the right audience. Or perhaps, since it’s being staged by a very small indie publisher, it’s an invitation to wonder if our work will ever suit the limited (and limiting?) requirements of the Big Six, and suggest there are other places to take it?

And of course there’s nothing that says you won’t be a best-seller by going with a small publisher. I’ve just been reading Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, Man Booker shortlisted, from Scottish indie publisher Saraband BooksSandstone Press has also had lots of mainstream success.

ajoyriverLinen Press, possibly the smallest of the small, came up on my radar years ago, I think because of the Scottish connection (director Lynn Michell was based in Edinburgh at the time) and their small but inviting website. Prompted by an online article elsewhere, I ordered one of their titles and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Since then I’ve read and reviewed others and although not all have been to my taste, they have  all had the  stamp of quality fiction: well-written, thoroughly edited and with unique voices. Avril Joy’s Sometimes A River Song was one of my stand-out reads of last year and a worthy contender for the People’s Book Choice prize. (Read! Vote!) I can also recommend Susie Nott Bowers’ The Making of Her, a compelling novel about the media and the beauty industry.

Like many indie publishers, Linen Press accepts unsolicited submissions – always tempting for the un-agented author – but of course they take on very few of those who apply. So what does a small press look for? How does it work?

I think Beyond the Bestseller will be an intriguing event, lifting the lid on what it takes and how it would be to work with this or other indie outfits. £30 for a day (with lunch!) strikes me as very reasonable. I’m consulting my calendar to see if I can make it.




Future of the novel – set menu and a la carte

Nothing like a portentous title to get the comments coming in – well that’s my cunning plan. But it’s a question I do ponder from time to time amongst more mundane issues like what to cook for supper and if my bedding plants (yes I still do bedding plants) will survive another gale. It actually started with Andew Marr (bless, is he better yet?) who wrote a column a few years ago saying he thought he might have ‘gone off’ fiction for the simple reason he was starting (as I recall) to find novels in general a bit, well, ho hum I suppose. And the awful thing is, I kind of know what he means. Not that I don’t like fiction (I don’t read much else) but having widened my reading remit to include decent indie authors and the things that Amazon/Twitter/Facebook throw at me (you may also like etc etc – I’m just too suggestible) I’m finding that more and more often I start a book and don’t finish it, not because there is anything wrong with it, but because it just isn’t really catching my interest. As a reader, I find this a bit worrying. Is my reading palate becoming jaded?

As a writer it’s terrifying. To write a decent novel is hard enough. To write one that stands out from the crowd is harder still and even more necessary than ever. Right now I’m reading a commercially published thriller set in ancient Rome which is well written and well researched and has a great opening scene. But even so, I kind of feel I know what’s coming – or what kind of thing. In short, having had two great Roman reads not so long ago, can I be bothered with another? A much-lauded literary prize-winner (no, not Mantel!) has met with a similar fate.

Daring - and brilliant!

Daring – and brilliant!

So what have I enjoyed? Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life starts off in a way that feels totally bonkers before settling in to a really great read. John Harding’s Florence and Giles had one of the most unusual voices I have ever read, and of recent ‘mainstream’  reads, only Heat Wave written in 1999 by Penelope Lively, an absolute  master of the genre, has really captivated me. All of these had a piquancy which kept me interested, much more more ala carte than set menu.

Writer, readers, publishers are all in the same boat, I think, and what we have now is a bit of a polarisation in fiction into genre fiction (crime, romance, horror or mystery) which is predictable in many respects (and I say this with no disrespect whatever to any of the fab genre writers). But we know these books will do what they say on their respective tins and are happy to pick up new brands and even stuff in the bargain/indie shelf because hey, a love story is a love story and a murder is a murder. So for 99p what’s not to like? Which is why I think indie genre authors can do pretty well. People understand the brand.

The flip side is that ‘non-genre’ fiction needs either a very big name or a corker of a USP, i.e. a tin that looks different to anything else we have ever seen, or made from some eye-catching material if it’s to get out notice at all, and when we pick it up we might still not really fancy it unless we’re pretty sure we’re going to get value for our £5 or £6 e-book compared to an indie £1.99.

So where is this going? Is general fiction dead? Well I don’t think so, but we need to be aware that a good story well told (which what agents and publishers are always telling us they want) might not actually be enough. As readers we are fickle and swing from what’s tried and tested to something entirely novel. If we go for the new,  it has to be not roughly what we expect but something a lot better, something that surprises and delights.

Where does this leave the writer? Well, no one said it would be easy.

By the way, apologies if any comments here go unanswered for a couple of days –  a short break in transmission is coming up.

Claire King and The Night Rainbow

Claire King

Claire King

I’ve never actually met today’s guest in the real world, but I feel like we’ve known one another for a while and I remember some of the big moments in her writing story: finding an agent, then a publisher, as well as some short story successes along the way. And so I’m delighted to have her here today to mark the launch of her debut novel The Night Rainbow and at the same time I’m looking forward to filling in some of the gaps in my knowledge.
Hi Claire,  I know you live mainly in France – how did that come about?
We moved to France 11 years ago when I was 30. I had finally met my Mr Right, but I was working 60+ hour weeks away from home, so if we were ever going to have children, something had to change. The job was paying for the London flat, so a move was on the cards too, and we thought – why not take the chance to move somewhere we’d really like to live? We settled on the South of France, sold up and moved out, all within about 6 months. Although it’s not been plain sailing, especially financially, we have found work and also the time to pursue the things we really wanted in life – raising children, spending time together and – for me – writing.

How wonderful it all worked out just as you planned.
Did you ever feel that choosing the voice of  a child for your novel was making it more difficult to sell, or was it an advantage?
It was definitely a risky choice. A child’s voice is ‘unusual’ and therefore more of a risk, plus there are so many people in a publishing house that need to agree to take on a novel, by writing something potentially divisive, you’re diminishing your chances. But I strongly believe you should write your story however your gut tells you is best, and not worry about the odds of selling it at the end. The odds are low and unpredictable, so you may as well write it with conviction, as that will make the book shine. I hope that readers will also take the risk with Pea’s voice. Although several reviewers have talked of their initial hesitation, so far no-one has been disappointed!

 I’m looking forward to reading it. I know that being published with one of the ‘big six’ takes a while and I think you signed with Bloomsbury in 2011. What were the major steps in the publishing process and how much as an author were you involved?
Yes, I signed January 2011 so it’s taken 2 years. To be honest the first year was quiet. The 2013 pub date was more to do with full lists than the time needed to prepare the book. Although Bloomsbury is now known as a ‘big’ publisher, the team is quite small, and they, quite rightly, didn’t want to squeeze me in without being able to give the novel enough care and attention, or of course to the detriment of other novels already bought. Launching a debut, in particular, seems to be a bit tricky, there are certain times of year that are best, that tie in with bookseller promotions etc and don’t leave you lost in the Christmas rush. Over the last year things really heated up. First came editorial suggestions from my editor Helen (there were not many of these, which I put down to how polished the book was when I submitted it).  Then there were copy edit queries, approval of copy edits and first page proofs.
Thank for sharing these – the comments from your copy editor are really interesting from a writer’s point of view.
Of course there were also the exciting things like cover art and blurbs, rights deals, and kicking things off with marketing and PR. I’ve been very involved at every stage. The team at Bloomsbury are very collaborative and lovely to work with.

I’ve heard from other commercially writers that a lot is expected from authors in terms of marketing their own book. How have Bloomsbury supported you so far and have you been happy with what you’ve been asked to do?
I think that across publishers, and even within publishing houses, the marketing and PR that goes with a book and an author varies incredibly. And I think that publishers are rather sensitive to talking too much about it, for fear that we authors will get sweaty at how we see the marketing spend and effort on our books compared to others. The Night Rainbow isn’t one of the huge lead titles being emblazoned everywhere this year, but I hope it’s going to be a great word of mouth book. Certainly the booksellers love it, and being included in the Waterstones Read & Review and Amazon Vine early readers programmes is ideal.  A couple of other notable things that have been done for me as an author and for the Night Rainbow – The 2013 debutantes evening, where the Bloomsbury 2013 literary debs were introduced over drinks to booksellers and the press last autumn.That felt really very special, and was the kind of event you only get via a publisher. The other is my lovely book trailer (posted below) which I adore. Behind the scenes I know that newspapers, magazines and bloggers have been sent copies of The Night Rainbow to review, and although it’s hard for debut novelists, having the requests go out with the reputation of Bloomsbury behind them is a great help.

 What writing projects have you been involved with since being signed by Bloomsbury. And is novel no. 2 in the pipeline?
Honestly, I’ve done practically no writing apart from on novel #2. It’s written now but I’m still going over and over edits. It feels like a bad time to be doing it, because there are so many demands on my time right now as it’s launch month for The Night Rainbow. Plus every time someone says something wonderful about The Night Rainbow I feel a slight stab of panic about making this new book as good and better. I think it’s just a case of distorted perspective, and once things quieten down a bit I’ll have these edits in the bag and will feel much better! Then I’d like to write a few short stories before I go again with the third novel. 

I know you are also a prize-winning short story writer. What have been the highlights of that career?
I’d really like to mention the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2010, because it was a Bristol Short Story Prize Anthologymoment in my writing life where I really felt encouraged. I was on the verge of submitting The Night Rainbow, and had been tweeting with writers for a while but hadn’t really got anyone I could chat to face to face. I left my daughters, then 2 and 4, with my husband and travelled to Bristol as one of the shortlisted writers. The atmosphere was amazing and I got a huge boost from being nothing but a writer, just for one day.

  I know you are active on social media – do you have any system for managing it as part of your writing life? (I’m all ears for this one!)
Good question, Alison! I don’t have a system at all. Although I can be found on Facebook and Google + I’m not very active, and my main socialising tends to be done on Twitter, which I love. I think for Twitter to work well, for your own sanity as well as anything else, you need to be genuinely interested in other people on there. I’ve got past 1500 people that I follow now, and am working on a one in one out basis, because I do like to hear what people I’ve got to know are up to and not just to feel like my stream is a lot of anonymous noise. That’s just too stressful. I don’t ‘do’ Twitter, I ‘visit’ it the way you’d visit a party: for a catch up, to hear interesting news and opinions and to share my own news and points of view. And so in the same way as parties, if I’m on a deadline or I’m spending time with my children, or I just need some thinking time then I don’t go. The temptation just to have a look is high, but I do think you have to focus on one thing or another, or else life becomes very fragmented, when – as a writer – what you really need is focus.

TThe-Night-Rainbow-fronthat sounds a pretty healthy attitude.
All the very best with
The Night Rainbow – and the next one of course – and also for sharing your experience with us in such an insightful way.

You can read an extract of The Night Rainbow and find links to your favourite bookstores here.

It’s a mad mad soon-to-be-published world

I’d like to say after last week’s double whammy of excitement that things have now settled down and I have given up media publicity (!) in favour of a quiet writing reading life. But public appearances appear to be like buses, and so on we go, with an apology to anyone who has already had ample notification of these events. (I mean I would hate anyone to have missed out!)

First of all, even before I was in touch with Thornberry or Love a Happy Ending I had been contacted via LinkedIn (ah, it was worth joining after all!) by Scottish writer  Jane Riddell to do a guest appearance on her Papillon blog and I have to say she hosted an excellent interview which reveals a bit more about my e-publishing deal and which you can still read here. (And if you are fed up of me there are some other very interesting guests either side).

Then as soon as the Summer Audience event was over, the busy bees at LAHE (as we insiders call it) asked for content for my very own Featured Author Page which is already up and running. This isn’t the first pitch I have written for A Kettle of Fish  by a long chalk, but I am hanging on to the hope that it just might be the last, and so I hope some of you will head over and take a look. Comments welcome of course.

LAHE also have a highly organised blog programme to which authors are asked to contribute for time to time and so right now I really should be writing something for the next ‘Who knew’ feature. Finally, a call has arrived from What the Dickens which I suspect means that another set of e-reviews is due, and so I have to sort out some reading as well as writing.

You can imagine how much electronic communication all of this has involved much of it on Facebook, another double-edged sword in the battle between communication and time management. But this blog is still my home ground, and if I have a ‘brand’ (thanks Stephanie!) as I believe I ought this is where it’s at.  Perhaps this blog will become a channel for news (at last!) rather than reflection,  or maybe it will trundle on as before. Either way, thanks for the support so far, and do keep in touch.

Forth Bridges

Hope you like this photo of the Forth Bridge from David Blaikie on flickr, now bidding to  have iconic status (doesn’t it have that already?)  and Ailsa’s path to freedom.

The audience is out there

It’s been a while since I wrote my Twitter profile (go on, read it), but it’s one I’m still quite happy with, at least until this week, when a perceptive follower (thanks Derek!) asked what the ‘breakthrough moment’ it mentions would actually look like to me.  My first reaction was to reply ‘a book deal’ because isn’t that what I’ve wanted since starting my first novel in 2003? Isn’t that what any writer of full-length fiction really really wants?

But hang on  a minute. That ambition was born eight years ago. In that time I’ve written a lot, learned a lot and changed my work status more than once. Then there are the changes sweeping through the publishing industry. Maybe it’s time to take another look at the Holy Grail of the novelist and see if it’s still measuring up.

A book deal, if you ask me, gets its cachet of ultimate accolade on two counts.
The first is recognition, the second recompense. Recognition, that is, of my
work, beyond my personal circle or group of peers. Recompense as a way of
measuring success is arguably part of recognition. Of course it also has the
huge advantage of paying the bills. Signing with a major publisher gets my work out there and the money coming in. QED.

But is it that simple? I’ve met lots of authors who have had book deals which have fallen short of expectation, leaving them still waiting for the breakthrough moment. There are also rumblings from a number of acquaintances with very respectable deals about the money being less and the work on marketing and platform building taking much longer than they expected. And there’s the nub. Every publisher from the big six down asks authors to use social networks, build platforms arrange blog tours and book signings.  A contract with a publisher no longer means sitting back and waiting for them to sell the books. Aside from distribution to bookshops, most marketing is in the hands of the author. And big publishers will still make healthy advances, but probably only if you already have a huge public following or some other claim to fame.

Looking back over eight years I can also see I’ve achieved quite a lot already in the way of recognition (shortlistings, prizes, the odd publication) and while in
charge of a commercial golf blog, for a while I even had a small income from
writing. More importantly, partly as a result of work interests but mainly
because I think it’s fun, I have ended up already  building  a platform here, on Twitter and to a lesser extent on Facebook.

I think you can see where this is leading. I would still like the vindication of
a book deal – and the bigger the better. On the other hand, there are now many
more ways to skin the publishing cat. With the huge success of e-readers, e-publishing is becoming the norm, and in the e-publishing world, the line between commercial and self-publishing is increasingly fuzzy: new models are evolving all the time in which  author, agent and publisher may share or swap roles.

To sum up, the audience is out there, the  technology to reach it is readily available. The income might be modest, but it would be mine. The future, some might say, is in my own hands. So what exactly am I waiting for?

The book is out there …

Mrs Darcy coverIt’s barely a year since  Jonathan Pinnock came here to do a guest appearance, and look what’s happened! Not only has his blog serialisation of Mrs. Darcy versus the Aliens been snapped up by a new imprint of Salt Publishing, but it’s already in the shops and in a healthy position in WH Smith charts.

For those of you who don’t know Mrs. Darcy in this particular guise, do read an extract here (wet shirt alert!) which will get you in the mood for the book as a whole. As a bit of a ‘real’ Austen fan, I was doubtful about my stomach for the alien mash-up, but as soon as I tried out the original blog, I found myself laughing out loud – with more laughs to follow when I tracked down this truly silly (brush up your school French!) YouTube trailer. I’m now pleased I didn’t read the whole blog as I have an excellent excuse (though no excuse needed to support Fellow Writer)  to go out and buy the book, which I shall do any minute now.  I hope lots of you will do the same.  Don’t worry, an affection for Jane Austen can only increase the pleasure.

As I also had the good luck to bump into Jon in person (that’s very tall person as it happens) along with a number of other notable Tweeps at the Get Writing Conference, his moment of glory feels all the more personal. If you’d like to meet up with Jon in a more virtual way, his blog tour schedule is here, and there’s a cracking outline of what makes the book work on the Proxima blog.

So what more can I say? If the truth is out there, though not yet universally acknowledged, I think it pretty soon will be.

Get Writing 2: the pitch

Picture this. One room containing five (I think it was five) publishers, editors  or agents, each seated at a school desk.  At a distance of some 10 metres from them, five queues,  each containing ten jittery wannabees (apologies to anyone there who was way beyond wannabee status) making nervous jokes and mentally rehearsing what they might cram into three short minutes with their chosen  guru. As seventh in line, I had more time than most for the jitters and the jokes.

One big plus was an air of strict organisation by the conference marshalls who insisted everyone stay behind the start line, and made sure no one could over-run to the detriment of anyone else.  At each change over the orders were barked and the next contender moved up into starting position. By the time I was second from the front I started to remember those theme park rides where I queued happily for an hour (or more) only to baulk when the car taking me over the big drop pulled up alongside.

Scott Pack
Scott Pack

But the drop, when it came, was a gentle one.  ‘My’ publisher was charm itself and  made encouraging noises all the way through, although an excess of adrenalin made it unlikely I’d dry up.  In fact in my enthusiasm I completely missed the  ‘thirty second’ call  and had to be elbowed out by the next contender. 

Outcome? Okay, I have not been snapped up just yet, but I did have a prompt, courteous and  encouraging response to the material I left behind for my ‘date’  to peruse away from the maelstrom. And I do feel I gained a lot from the opportunity to have what was in effect a ‘dry run’ for other approaches I might make. I may not have a deal, but I’ve had a good confidence boost. Taking into account the cherished prize, not a bad return on a conference fee of £50.

To others considering this or similar ventures, it worked for me because it came at the right time. As I do final polishes to A Kettle of Fish, I realise I do have a grasp of the book as a whole and its likely markets. I also did several hours preparation for my 3 minutes, including prompt cards and a full dress rehearsal with my writers’ group, all of which was definitely worthwhile.

All in all, the pitch was a lot more fun than I expected, and maybe that’s the clue. Be serious about it, but keep a sense of humour.  Otherwise those three minutes might seem quite a long time!

For anyone who wants to know more about the day, take a look here.

A blog by any other name

When I read this post on the Futurebook blog recommending all authors get the social media habit, it simply confirmed my own beliefs that an aspiring novelist really has to get out there.  It came up again at a writers’ evening where a friend who has just signed a deal for a genre novel  told us that she is expected to maintain a blog and website of her own, despite benefitting from the marketing guns of a  major publisher.

As a blog convert, my own reaction is ‘why not?’ It’s easy enough to set up a basic blog, and even if it does eat into other writing time (note I don’t just say ‘writing time’, because a blog, and even Twitter, in case you haven’t noticed, does involve writing), there’s a lot of enjoyment to be obtained on all kinds of levels from joining online communities, not to mention the networking opportunities they throw up.

So, imagine my surprise when I picked up a Tweet about a blog post entitled You Don’t Have to Blog, Tweet, or Be on Facebook. Since my reaction to this is  ‘oh yes you do’ I decided to have a look, and whichever side of the fence you are on, you should have a look too. 

What Jane Friedman says, in effect, is that there is no need to follow one particular mode of online interraction, or to see the exercise as purely about self-promotion. The important thing is to use whichever medium you choose in the way that you want to, and to make connections with like-minded souls. But the message also comes across from both the post itself and the comments, that you should be doing something to create and foster such connections. Because as soon as you do, you also create an audience, in other words a readership. These are people who already like your ‘voice’ (whatever form it takes), who will give you support when they can , and from whom you will also pick up information, tips, and inspiration. Come the day when you sign that deal and your baby hits the shelves, they may even buy a copy. They will certainly tell their own friends and followers about it, who will tell their friends  …  

So what can you do if you’re a blog/twitter refusenik? Jane Friedman comes up with some novel alternatives (of which several are actually blogs!) I certainly know of bloggers who communicate almost solely in pictures, using a blog or a Flickr photostream. It’s also common to blog on a  topic  only partly linked to your work as an author.  It’s still a showcase for you.What matters is that you want to do it. While writing this post I discovered that local writer Nina Milton has set up a new blog in the persona of her latest heroine, an excellent way of honing the voice and getting in character. And of course there are those whose blogs (fictional or otherwise) have the potential to make it in the world of print or e-books.  Harper Collins (under the imprint of  The Friday Project) is one publisher actively looking for such material, and if you want to know what has happened to John Pinnock’s Mrs. Darcy versus The Aliens blog,  look here if you dare.

So to all you social media refuseniks, the question isn’t about what you don’t want to do, but what you are going to do instead. 


As a writer, it’s easy to be seduced by those stories of instant success into thinking that there are short-cuts to the holy grail of getting published, and I have to thank people like Jane Smith (check out her  nice new website) and Sally Zigmond for reminding me that even in this techno whizzy age the traditional recipe of learning the craft and working at it very very hard (and probably for a long time) is still as much of a guarantee of success as anything else. But this week it’s hats off to Jim C. Hines, a U.S. fantasy writer, for doing some empirical research on how some commonly suggested factors may or may not influence the process. A mere précis would not do justice to Jim’s research (which he presents with great care and due attention to the possible flaws in his data) and I urge anyone who’s interested to read it for themselves, and so I’ll stick to highlighting a couple of surprises.

The first myth to be busted by Jim is when he discovers that only a minority of his sample went through the usual recommended route of short story publication. On reflection, perhaps this doesn’t entirely surprise me, if only because it is quite hard to get short stories published (or even noticed) unless you can stick to the strict rules of womag writing or catch the eye of the judges in big competitions. Neither would I take this as a reason to give up on short story writing as it’s an excellent way to learn how to write fiction. However, I’m heartened to feel that never having won the Bridport need not count against me when submitting a novel to an agent.

Another interesting question asked by Jim was how long authors had been writing before getting a novel published – and the average was 10 years – i.e. overnight success is at least as rare as I had always thought. However, although most authors had written 2 – 4 books before finding success, 58 authors in his sample of 246 had actually got a first novel published. Since I had always thought this was a very rare feat, I’m happy to find that it’s not impossible, and don’t feel quite so abashed at having just sent my own first attempt (languishing in a drawer for some time) off to a competition.

If you’d like to know the other myths challenged by Jim do check out the whole article. It is based mainly on U.S. writers of fantasy or genre fiction, but I have a sneaking suspicion his findings would largely be borne out in other genres and on this  side of the pond.

Mind over matter

Last week Nathan Bransford invited his blog followers to be agents for a day. The idea was similar to that of Pitch Parlour (one of my erstwhile haunts but sadly now in intermission) in allowing writers to judge their peers on the strength of a pitch letter and sample pages. (Most U.S. agents work from a pitch letter rather from a synopsis and partial manuscript as  is more usual in the country.) What I liked best about this exercise was NB’s observation after the event that while an agent’s view will always be subjective i.e. based on individual taste, that doesn’t mean it’s arbitrary i.e. lacking in any guiding principle. (These definitions/interpretations, by the way, are my own.)

As aspiring novelists, I think we would do well to remember that if our book isn’t getting picked, those that are selected have not only appealed to the agent in a personal way but also have the underlying characteristics that will ensure commercial success. Some of these will be relate to the overall quality of the writing (character, pace, plot) others may be particular elements thought likely to appeal to the current market (e.g. genres or settings regarded as in vogue). But if we despair of gaining attention, we must remind ourselves that ‘they have their reasons’. Instead of blaming them for doing their job, we should make sure that we are doing ours.

On this basis I’ve been doing some ‘revision’ helped by the authors of The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, a book recommended some time ago by one of the Strictly Writing authors. This is not a straight text book but a compendium by a number of contributors. The chapters are not too long, and although I haven’t come across anything I didn’t already know, seeing it put in a new way is an excellent reminder of all the things I need to do to create a book worthy of professional attention.

In terms of personal response, I’m also reminded of how easy it is to get on the wrong side of a reader with some trivial detail. I was really looking forward to my current read and ready to lap up the historical background of a period that really interests me, but just as I plunged into the story, I stubbed my reading toe, as it were, on the hero’s  name (Alex)  which to my mind doesn’t fit a Victorian Scotsman. Because of it I’m struggling to take off a critical hat  and  simply go with the flow of the narrative.

So there we have it: a detail that could have been changed by an editor, but as a reader I have to put up with it.  And yes, this is entirely subjective !